When it comes to the impact humans have had on the Earth, the evidence spans much further than just the surface, but also the outer space surrounding our lovely planet.
Not only have we sent so much space junk into orbit around our planet, but we’ve also discovered that our use of VLF (very low frequency) radio equipment is interacting with our magnetic field to form a set of protective bubbles around our planet that shield us from different forms of cosmic radiation.
Image Credit: NASA
The discovery, made in part by NASA's Van Allen probes, was published in the journal Space Science Reviews.
VLF equipment is stationed on the surface of our planet and is used to beam high-power radio frequencies deep within our oceans to communicate with our submarines. On the other hand, whole most of this radio frequency makes it where it needs to go, some of it makes it into the atmosphere and beyond.
Probing into how these protective VLF bubbles impacts charged particles from space, researchers have discovered that our man-made shield actually influences how and where they travel, effectively moving them away from our planet.
“A number of experiments and observations have figured out that, under the right conditions, radio communications signals in the VLF frequency range can in fact affect the properties of the high-energy radiation environment around the Earth,” said Phil Erickson, assistant director at the MIT Haystack Observatory, Westford, Massachusetts.
These bubbles can be seen not only from the surface of the Earth, but also from the satellites that are orbiting our planet.
Interestingly, the bubbles have only increased in size as our planet became more active in the arts of VLF transmission. Several decades ago, when the use of VLF equipment wasn’t as common, the bubble was much smaller and did less to protect our planet when compared to today.
The research is inspiring enough that experts in the field would like to perform tests higher up in the atmosphere to see if VLF equipment can be used to remove excess charged particles and radiation from the Earth’s atmosphere during times of higher solar activity.
It ought to be interesting to see what becomes of this research. Perhaps we’re onto something that could extend the life of our planet and our expensive satellites from radiation coming from the great beyond.